Saturday, April 13, 2024
FOOT HEALTH Skin and Nail Problems

Plantar Warts on the Feet: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment of Foot Warts

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What Is a Plantar Wart?

Plantar warts, often referred to as foot warts or verrucae, are small growths that develop within the skin. They are a product of human papillomavirus and are contagious. When left untreated, these warts can cause discomfort. 

The virus that causes warts enters the skin when you walk barefoot. When the warts form in clusters, it is known as a “mosaic wart”. It is not uncommon for warts to vanish spontaneously over time. However, persistent warts warrant medical intervention.

While most warts might cause discomfort, they are generally benign. Although warts can be painful, most are harmless. 

It’s important to diagnose warts accurately, because they can be confused with other skin lesions such as corns and certain skin cancers. 

plantar wart

What Are the Causes of Foot Warts?

The causes of foot warts, or plantar warts, occur when individuals walk barefoot in public spaces. These environments include locker rooms, gymnasiums, public showers, and the floors of swimming pools.

Although warts can show up immediately after contact, it is not unusual for them to show up in the skin weeks or months after initial contact with the virus. 

However, exposure to a wart does not guarantee its development in everyone. They are influenced by individual immune responses, which vary from person to person. It’s not unusual for a single family member to have plantar warts while others in the family do not. 

Who Is at Risk for Developing Warts in the Feet?

  • Children, Adolescents, and Teenagers

This age group tends to be more prone to developing foot warts. Their immune systems are still maturing and are not as equipped as adults to fight off the human papillomavirus, which causes warts. Their lifestyles often involve activities such as sports or swimming where they may have to go barefoot in communal areas, increasing their exposure to the virus.

  • Immunocompromised Patients

These individuals, particularly those undergoing chemotherapy or living with HIV, face an elevated risk of plantar warts. Their immune systems are weakened, making them less capable of resisting infections and viruses.

The compromised immune defense heightens their susceptibility to contracting foot warts. 

  • Athletes

Athletes, especially those engaged in team sports or who regularly use gym facilities, have a higher likelihood to develop plantar warts. Their regular use of communal areas such as locker rooms and showers increases their exposure to warts. 

  • People With Skin Trauma

Individuals with wounds or damage on the skin of their feet, particularly on the soles, are more susceptible to developing plantar warts. The wart enters the bottom of the foot through open skin lesions or cracks.

The damaged skin provides an easy access point, increasing the likelihood of wart formation. That’s why people with certain skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis are at an increased risk for contracting foot warts. 

What Are Symptoms of Plantar Warts?

The symptoms of plantar warts can vary and are listed below.

  • Callus Formation

One of the primary indicators of a plantar wart is the formation of a callus in the area of the wart. The skin over the wart thickens, forming a callus as a result of the body’s reaction to the presence of the wart.

This hard, thickened area of skin can help differentiate a wart from other skin conditions.

  • Black Dots

Another characteristic feature to look for are small black dots at the center of the wart. These spots represent tiny blood vessels that feed the wart. It’s crucial to avoid picking at these, as this could lead to the spread of the wart virus to your fingers or other parts of your body.

  • Distorted Footprint

If you have a plantar wart, you might find it challenging to identify a clear footprint through the site of the wart. This is due to the thickened skin over the wart that disrupts the normal skin pattern.

A regular callus doesn’t typically distort the footprint in such a manner, making this a useful clue in differentiating between the two.

  • Color and Appearance

Warts on your toes may appear white or even flesh-colored, unlike the rest of your skin. They tend to be raised and rough, differing from the smooth texture of healthy skin.

  • Pain and Sensitivity

Plantar warts can be painful. The skin in this area is notably sensitive, and the presence of a wart can cause discomfort during movement or when pressure is applied. Treating warts in this region can be difficult due to the sensitivity and the potential for discomfort.

How Do Health Care Providers Diagnose Plantar Warts in the Clinic?

To diagnose a plantar wart, physicians will perform a biopsy of the lesion. This involves removing a small sample of the skin from the affected area, which is then sent to a laboratory for examination.

The biopsy does not cause pain. The biopsy helps confirm if the lesion is indeed a wart caused by the human papillomavirus.

A biopsy is important because it differentiates foot warts from skin cancers that can sometimes mimic the appearance of warts. 

plantar wart treatment

What Is the Treatment for Warts?

There is a broad spectrum of methods available for addressing warts, with the primary ones listed below.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a common method used for treating warts. In this procedure, your physician will use liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart. This extremely cold substance will cause the wart to blister and eventually fall off.

Although it may sound painful, the discomfort is generally minimal and temporary. The freezing process disrupts the growth and causes the skin cells of the wart to die. It might require multiple sessions, usually spaced a week or so apart, before the wart completely disappears.

Electrocautery

Electrocautery is another treatment option where your physician will use a special tool known as a hyfrecator. Before starting, the area around the wart will be numbed using a local anesthetic to minimize any discomfort.

This machine uses an electric current to burn off the wart. This method can be quite effective but it may cause pain that persists for several days following the procedure.

Mild scarring is also a common outcome of this procedure, but this usually fades over time.

Prescription Acids

Using prescription acids is an alternate approach for treating warts. Your doctor may choose to apply aggressive chemicals such as Salicylic acid, Trichloroacetic acid, Monochloroacetic acid, or Cantharidin on your wart. These acids work by corroding the wart tissue, which eventually causes the wart to fall off.

This treatment may necessitate regular visits to your doctor every 3-4 weeks until the wart is completely resolved. Although it can be a lengthy process, it is generally well-tolerated and poses less risk of scarring.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is an advanced treatment method where your doctor uses a pulse-dyed laser to burn off the wart in a precise and targeted manner. It works by directing concentrated beams of light energy to the wart which damages its structure, causing it to shrivel up and fall off.

Laser therapy might require regular sessions depending on the size and stubbornness of the wart. Although it might sound intimidating, this process is typically done under local anesthesia to minimize discomfort.

Excision

In some cases, warts can be treated through surgical removal, or excision. This method is typically considered a last resort due to its invasive nature. Your physician will make an incision around the wart, ensuring it’s completely removed.

Because the surrounding skin needs to be closed up after the wart is excised, a slightly larger incision is often necessary. As a result, this method is generally suited for smaller warts.

Patients should be informed about the possibility of scar tissue formation following the procedure, as in some cases, the resulting scar tissue might cause more discomfort than the original wart.

home remedies warts

What Are Home Remedies for Treating Plantar Warts?

There are several home remedies you can try to treat plantar warts. These options are usually simple, non-invasive, and can be done comfortably at home. However, it’s always important to consult with a healthcare provider before beginning any new treatment. 

Common home remedies used to treat foot warts are listed below.

Over-the-Counter Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a common treatment for warts, available over-the-counter in various forms such as liquids, gels, and patches. The acid works by gradually peeling off the tissue overlying the wart, thus promoting its removal.

Be careful when applying Salicylic acid on sensitive areas like toes.  Excessive application can cause the skin to become overly moist or potentially result in blistering. For the treatment to be most effective, the tissue overlying the wart should be trimmed before application. This allows the acid to penetrate more deeply.

Non-prescription Salicylic acid is generally less strong than the prescription-strength version that a doctor would apply. Therefore, if you’re not seeing results after a reasonable period using the OTC acid, it may be time to consult your doctor for a stronger treatment.

Duct Tape Therapy

Cover the wart with a piece of duct tape for around six days, then soak the area in water and gently exfoliate the area with a pumice stone or emery board. The duct tape deprives the wart of oxygen, thereby causing it to die. 

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is another household item that has been used to treat plantar warts. It contains acetic acid that is used to kill bacteria and warts. To use, apply a small amount of vinegar to a cotton ball, place it over the wart, and secure it with a bandage overnight.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is known for its antiviral properties, which can be beneficial in treating warts. Apply a few drops of the oil to a cotton ball, place it on the wart, and secure it with a bandage. Repeat this process daily until the wart disappears. 

How Long Does Recovery Take After Treating Foot Warts?

The duration of recovery after treating foot warts can vary widely depending on the treatment, the size and number of warts, and individual factors such as the person’s overall health and immune system function.

For treatments like cryotherapy, electrocautery, and laser therapy, the warts often fall off within a few days to a couple of weeks. Following treatment, there might be some discomfort and a healing period where the skin regenerates, which can take another week or two.

Your doctor will recommend you wear a shoe that will accommodate a bulky bandage during the healing process. 

Excision typically offers immediate wart removal. However, the recovery process, including healing of the surgical wound, may take several weeks. Depending on the location of the wart, you may need to remain off of your feet for 2-4 weeks to avoid putting pressure on the area until it heals.

walking barefoot on floor

How Can You Prevent Warts?

Preventing warts involves a combination of hygiene measures and self-care strategies to minimize your exposure to the virus. 

Listed below are ways to prevent plantar warts. 

1. Cover the Wart.

Whether using duct tape or another form of adhesive tape, it’s important to keep your wart covered between treatments. Not only does this reduce the risk of spreading the virus, but it can also aid in the treatment process. 

Each time the tape is peeled away, it may remove the outer layer of the wart, enabling treatments to penetrate more effectively. 

2. Change Shoes and Socks Daily.

Implementing good foot hygiene can go a long way in preventing the spread of the wart virus. Change your socks daily and consider wearing house slippers at home if you live with others to prevent spreading the wart.

3. Protect Your Feet in Public Spaces.

When using communal spaces like gyms or locker rooms, always protect your feet. Keeping your feet clean, dry, and protected can significantly reduce your risk of getting warts.

4. Don’t Share Personal Items.

Avoid sharing personal items that come into contact with your skin, such as razors and towels. Sharing these items can spread the wart virus, so it’s best to keep them to yourself.

5. Manage Wart Pain.

If your warts are painful, consider using doughnut-shaped pads around the warts. You can obtain large donut offloading pads and small donut offloading pads from Amazon. These can help relieve pressure on the warts when walking. 

6. Use Metatarsal Pads.

If you have warts on your toes, metatarsal pads can be applied to your shoe liner. Metatarsal pads can help redistribute pressure to other parts of your foot when walking and thus relieve pain.

7. Choose Comfortable Footwear.

Avoid footwear that increases pressure on your warts. For example, high heels can worsen discomfort if you have warts on your toes or heels. Opt for comfortable shoes that reduce strain on the foot. 

8. Take Over-the-Counter Pain Medication.

Over-the-counter pain medications like Motrin or Tylenol can be used as recommended by your healthcare provider to reduce pain associated with warts.

When Should You Call Your Doctor?

While many people initially attempt self-treatment for warts, there are specific situations when you should see a foot doctor. These are listed below.

Indications of Infection

If the area around the wart becomes red, warm, and painful, it could be a sign of a skin infection requiring appropriate treatment, often involving antibiotics.

The Warts Are Spreading

Early intervention is crucial for warts to prevent them from spreading and getting larger. The larger the warts become, the more challenging they are to treat.

Uncertainty About the Diagnosis

If you’re uncertain about whether the foot lesion is a wart or not, especially if the lesion is not flesh-colored but appears black, blue, or brown, it’s important to see a foot doctor. Such a presentation could suggest skin cancer, and a quick diagnosis via biopsy can ensure proper treatment.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, this article provides education on plantar warts and serves as an important resource in community health, providing patients with crucial information about their condition. This information can help guide their choices, enabling them to better manage their symptoms, seek appropriate health care services when necessary, and prevent further spread of the lesions.

The article covers a variety of medical interventions, including chemical treatments and surgical options, highlighting the broad spectrum of therapeutic approaches in medicine. It offers care instructions for home treatments and preventive strategies, reinforcing the individual’s role in managing their health. The content in this article has been medically reviewed.

Continuously providing knowledge is essential in promoting informed decisions about warts care. This enhances good clinical outcomes. 

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The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Vaishnavi Bawa
Dr. Vaishnavi Bawa is a Podiatrist who specializes in treating foot and ankle pathology. LifesLittleSteps mission is to educate the public about foot health in an easy-to-understand manner using evidence-based medicine.
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